History of the Problem
The United States currently incarcerates over 2.3 million individuals—the highest incarceration rate in the world and a 500 percent increase over the past thirty years.4 Over-incarceration has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, with over 55 percent of those incarcerated being African-American or Hispanic.5 According to the Pew Center on the States and the NAACP, one in 31 adults in America is incarcerated or on probation or parole; twenty-five years ago, this rate was only one in 77.6
Over the past two decades, state spending on corrections has increased by 127 percent7; the current cost of state corrections is approximately $44 billion annually.8 The dramatic expansion of the criminal justice system over the past twenty years has stretched the system beyond its limits and has placed an unmanageable cost burden on local, state, and federal taxpayers. Such high costs are unsustainable during these times of economic uncertainty.
Experts representing law enforcement, state and local governments, academia, crime victims, and criminal justice reform advocates have studied the issues and have identified key ways to improve the criminal justice system. The policy solutions presented in this chapter reflect some of their ideas, and include reforms that would help achieve strategic system change through:
- Comprehensive review of the criminal justice system by a commission of policy makers, stakeholders, practitioners, and experts;
- Strategic reinvetstment of resources to improve system outcomes; and
- New policies to address pervasive racial and ethnic disparities.
Developing a strategy for system change based on research and knowledge about what works would improve criminal justice system outcomes, including reducing costs and increasing public safety. Given the state of the economy, as well as voter receptiveness to reform efforts, the time to achieve strategic system change is now.